OK, so I’m not trying to sound like one of those know-it-all Yelpers, but I think it’s fair to say Birreria isn’t really a beer garden. "Beer garden" conjures up crowds of friends leaning over long tables to pour themselves another pint from the pitcher, in between bites of sausage and sauerkraut. Birreria has sausage and sauerkraut, but the beer bar is standing only, a place to hover before a small table opens for you to sit down and order from a waiter, like at a restaurant.
My friend and I met downstairs in the Eataly market on a Monday night around 8:30, and got in line to head up to the roof amid rumors of a 45-minute wait. But when we got to the hostess, she told us we could go right up and check in with another hostess upstairs. Disregarding the tip-off about the second hostess, we happily ascended the elevator to the top, thinking we would be seated immediately. We were definitely perplexed when the upstairs hostess asked us why we hadn’t put in our name downstairs, and then told us she would text us when a table opened up. As two veterans of the service industry, we chalked it up to the chaos of a newly opened restaurant, and headed to the bar.
Young male bartenders in uniform red shirts labored away briskly behind the bar, pinches of frustration in the corners of their smiles. When I asked for the Gina, one of La Birreria’s in-house brews, a bartender informed me, in the tired voice of one who has repeated this explanation 10 times already, that all their in-house beers are still brewing. Until those are ready, they’re selling the same recipes, but brewed at Dogfish Head. I ordered the Eataly Thyme Pale Ale, which tasted strongly enough of thyme that my senses immediately conjured oven-roasted chicken—a good thing. But after a few sips I became immune to the thyme, and felt like I was drinking any pale ale. At $10 a pint, I only ordered one. My friend ordered a $12 Friulano white wine, which she enjoyed.
At the bar, we hung out amongst the Flatiron district’s after-work crowd, its gregarious suits channeling energy from the office into overpriced consumption. We named them "grown-up bros," and then embarked upon a sociological discussion of bros vs. hipsters, wondering which cultural subset we would rather hang out with, if it came down to choosing. Outcome was inconclusive.
After about 20 minutes, we received a text and were shown to our table.
Though Birreria is situated on the rooftop of Mario Batali’s Eataly compound, high fortress-like walls prohibit any view of the skyline. A glass ceiling, held up by sturdy metal beams affixed with lights and fans, separates the seating area from the elements, so you feel sheltered despite being outside. I spotted a rollover roof in case of rain.
"I feel like I’m on a cruise ship," my friend, who had weary memories of family cruises, said with a wince. Though I’ve never been on a cruise, the scene fit my idea of one perfectly—being packed in with all the finely-dressed folk, mingling in the open air yet at the same time feeling ensconced. The red chairs matched the servers’ red shirts, hinting at the workings of a higher corporate order.
From an extremely accommodating waiter, we ordered a selection of cheese ($11), which came out as three triangles on a large black plate, a kale and grapefruit salad ($13) heaped high in a ceramic bowl, and pork shoulder braised in beer and apricot ($19). Everything was good, but nothing was spectacular. It would have been worth it to try out one of the house-made sausages and salumi, if we’d had room. Instead we exchanged snarky comments about food empires, the cult of the celebrity chef and New York itself.
As we left, I said, "I’m probably not going back there." My friend looked me in the eye. "Me neither!" We both laughed.
Fifteen flights down, back in the market, we looked around, feeling strange, as though we’d just returned from a voyage—to the resort of Eataly, where we spent too much money and didn’t get to take in any of the native sights.
>> La Birreria
200 5th Ave., on the rooftop of Eataly, www.eatalyny.com/eat/birreria.